Gerry Barker’s Experience on the Panama Canal


PANAMA CANAL_Here we are, floating quietly outside the entrance to the Panama Canal, along with dozens of cargo ships, all of us waiting our turn.

Carnival Miracle is among the first cruise ships to make the transit as the 2019-2020 season starts; it was reported Island Princess was the first, a day or two before us, headed for Ft. Lauderdale.

Ranked as one of the seven wonders of the modern world, it will take us the better part of 12 hours to complete the 50-mile journey through the Canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific. On a previous cruise, Pam and I went halfway, so we’re looking forward to seeing the rest of it.

Guests aboard have crowded all the forward public areas to catch the best view. We opt to grab some chairs on Deck 3, where there’s shade and less congestion. Normally there wouldn’t be any seating available on Deck 3 — we learned it is not allowed since it serves as a Muster Station — such a shame to waste all that lovely relaxing space on the Promenade Deck.

image courtesy of Gerry Barker
Passing under the Centennial Bridge at the Panama Canal

As we enter the Canal, the first big moment comes when we pass under the Centennial Bridge, which rises some 260 feet above our ship. Even though you know the captain has it all well in hand, you still hold your breath as you watch the top of the ship pass under this cable-stayed, concrete wonder.

There is an ongoing narration over the PA detailing the history and other interesting facts about the Canal. On Miracle, it’s only piped into the public spaces so it’s easy to miss if you’re in your stateroom.

While new locks and a third lane were added in 2016 to accommodate today’s larger ships, the whole process is little changed from its opening over 100 years ago. We go through three locks into Lake Gatun, then three more locks when we exit. Electric-powered “mules” guide us through.

By the time we entered the Pacific it was dark, and the horizon was ablaze with lights from a long line of cargo ships waiting to enter. For Pam, who has been fascinated with the idea of the Canal from an early age, and I’m sure many others on board, it was a dream come true.

Now we have two days at sea before arriving at our next port of call, Puerto Quetzal in Gutemala. Hard to believe this cruise is already half-over. It seems like it just started.

Story and photos courtesy of Gerry Barker. 

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